My friend, Shelia, from Rambling On (a great blog, btw) recently posted a picture on her Flickr account of her younger self hiking. She commented on the clothing (including a very cute hat!), and the lack of technical gear……and whoosh! I was hurtling down memory lane as if it was a roller coaster.
You see, I can remember my first “proper hike” as if it was yesterday, which is odd in one way because there are others which I’m sure I should remember and don’t. Still…….
It was the summer of 1958, and I was eleven years old. My life was about to take one of those sharp, unavoidable turns which seem, at that age, like jumping off a cliff. I’d passed my 11-plus, which was the exam we took at that age back then, which shunted us off into the educational direction the results indicated. I was headed for the exciting yet frightening road to grammar school. Maybe it’s because of the anticipation of the impending shift in my life, and resulting feelings of panic, that I recall this walk so clearly.
Until this point, my vacations had been passed in Halifax, Yorkshire with my grandmother’s family. My vacation pattern was another part of my life on the cusp of change. My next summers would be spent in the English Lake District, since my aunt, uncle and cousin had moved there a short time before. Halifax, although surrounded by magnificent countryside, was then very industrial, whereas Bowness-on-Windermere, in the now defunct county of Westmorland, was a quiet village, which attracted its share of Sunday afternoon drivers, but not the gridlock a 21st century bank holiday produces. My cousin went to the village school, where all the children of the community were accommodated in just one class, so few were there.
It must have been a weekend that we ventured forth, because my aunt and uncle both worked during the week, and it was still considered necessary that Glenn (two years younger than I) and I had my grandmother as a kind of nanny. Looking back, she must have been younger than I thought at the time, but I guess at 11 it’s normal to think that one’s grandparents are older than the hills. I do remember that I was making life difficult for her. My rebel without a cause phase was about to begin, but all I knew then was that I was insulted by her presence. I considered myself quite “grown up” and not in need of a babysitter. She wasn’t one of those “fun” grandmas, she appeared quite austere, not very communicative, and always looking for the danger in anything we wanted to do (she had her reasons I now know), so her negative pull felt like being trapped in a spider’s web.This made our weekend hike even more appealing – it was heaven to be outdoors with my aunt and uncle, both of whom I hero-worshiped in my way.
I remember parking the car by a stream near Rydal Water, and climbing over a stile into what seemed another world. Although Yorkshire’s wild scenery is stunning, I’d always seen it from a distance; hilltops glimpsed from second-floor windows; vistas passed through and seen through the steamed-up windows of buses, and now here I was in the real heart of the English countryside- I already knew Wordsworth’s “Daffodils” by heart, and here I was, treading in his footsteps, even though it wasn’t, granted, daffodil season. Instead of daffodils there was knee-high bracken, and there was still enough of the child in me to know that under bracken leaves you may find fairies hiding.
This particular spot is less wild than many parts of the Lake District National Park, and it was a marked contrast for me after the desolate Yorkshire moors I’d seen before. The hills, tempered by the Ice Age, as I was soon to learn, rolled off into the distance, and trees sauntered down their sides to the pretty lakes nestled in the gentle valleys.
This was the beginning of a love affair for me, with the Lake District, with Rydal and Grasmere especially. A bonus was that it brought alive the Romantic poets, particularly Wordsworth, I was to study in the year ahead.
It was also the beginning of a love affair with walking, though back then it seemed so much easier. You simply packed a picnic, shoved it into your duffle bag, piled into the car and parked (with ease) close to where you wanted to go, and set off. Note our attire in the following photos – totally inadequate by today’s standards! My grandmother in what was her kind of “second best” clothes, a pleated skirt and sturdy shoes, and, believe it or not, stockings! The shoes not walking shoes, but sturdy because that’s what elderly women wore, and note the ever-present handbag by her side! Can you imagine going for a hike today with your handbag hooked over your elbow Queen-Liz style?! And there’s me in cotton skirt (it was red I recall) and, well, just normal kid’s shoes – this had been a parental reaction to the cut off jeans and scuffed sneakers I’d practically lived in during the previous months, to my mother’s alarm…..going to grammar school required that I ditch the tomboy stuff in favor of more ladylike things. Auntie Dot, however, striking just the right note for the day in her woolen, tartan trews (possibly MacArthur or just a generic pattern, but I remember the green and black with a faint yellow stripe). I so envied that she was able to wear trousers – it wasn’t just as common then as you might think – I was, in later years (1966), reprimanded for turning up to a college class in trousers on a day when there was snow and ice on the ground! Our picinic is all neatly packed into that duffle bag Uncle Jim carries – no backpacks, nor daypacks, nor fanny packs back then either….and as the other man in the group, it’s Glenn who carries the ssecond bag.
This day was significant in my life too because it marked not the beginning of, but the understanding of another love – and that was photography. I’d had a little Kodak since the previous Christmas, but I had to be careful with my use because developing was expensive, but on this vacation I was free to be as creative as I wanted, and Uncle Jim, a talented amateur photographer was a great teacher. He supervised the grouping of the photo above for me. I can’t help thinking, as the memories wash over me, how my life might have been different had I pursued the photography he encouraged and the writing which Auntie Dot encouraged back then, instead of waiting half a lifetime to indulge. Ah, well.
As I final note I tried to find a photo of that first, Kodak Brownie, and came across this video on YouTube to amuse you :=)
Yep my first photos had been taken with my parents’ box camera, just like that one. I guess I’d shown interest and that’s why they bought me the “all-singing, all-dancing” Kodak Brownie for Christmas!